The World Has Need of You | Ellen Bass
everything here seems to need us . . . —Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple as well.
I am writing this as our first “winter” storm rolls toward Denver. I wanted this colder weather, complained all summer and into fall about the too-high temperatures. Yesterday the high was 80 degrees. Today’s predicted high is 39.
This sudden drop in temperature reminds me of my current life, how I operate on a consistent plain until something unexpected interrupts my plans and I have to quickly adapt. Unexpected annoyances and unexpected losses, and everything in-between, have tested my ability to adapt the past several months.
There are times in my life when I’ve been near-breaking before I adapted. I fear I’ve recently also flat-out failed at adaptation.
A good example of this is this last issue of Tiger’s Eye. I have spent far too long getting it out into the world. Not out of laziness or inability; it has been a combination of events and personal set-backs. Now it is finally with our printer for the final proof, and should be ordered by the end of the month. I can live with a Christmas release. Our readers who mailed poetry so very long ago, are most likely wary they’ll ever see their work in print.
My lack of adaptation is in part a grieving. I have lost my best friend to a move neither of us anticipated. I have lost my own thread as a writer. And the work of supporting other poets became a weight I didn’t want to lift. I admit this, because the journal is finished, beautiful and nearly ready to mail to our readers. I admit it as you deserve to know that I was swimming upstream for a very long time, treading water, and I feel I’ve finally grabbed a Styrofoam ring and am paddling downstream once again. I have rejoined the living, breathing world of poetry.
Unexpectedly, my wandering in the desert of ennui has brought new people into my life, ones who understood because they too have been broken and changed by either health scares or job losses or unexpected life changes. A new friend, who I met in the most serendipitous way, makes jewelry. I have watched this woman create the most unusual and desirable pieces. That she refuses to do Etsy or eBay or any “E” commerce thrills me. She won’t get a PayPal account and she won’t accept credit cards. I absolutely love her attitude.
That attitude is also my own. We fought off the desire to make our press bigger, and we have continued printing what we want to print. Sometimes the reasons weren’t apparent to our readers, maybe we were too eclectic, a sweet sonnet next to a rangy rant. Thank God JoAn knew how to pair the poems, creating a seamless read for anyone who reads the journal from front to back. She suffered over which poems belonged next to each other, as if it was Match.com and she had to be sure they’d live happily ever after. They usually did . . .
The reality of this life, from prokaryotes to warm-blooded lumbering humans, is that nothing is static, we are in constant motion. Those of us with the ability to reason are making decisions and judgments continually. Just when we believe we’ve got it figured out, whoosh! Our work is always affected by these unexpected changes, and some of us continue writing and publishing and some of us go underground. There is no shame in going underground. But hopefully we come back up for air.
The other day my husband was driving and my mind was poetically wandering, a different name for daydreaming . . . and to our right was my dream car, a new Range Rover. But instead of the usual thought, I’ll never have one of those babies, I was washed in dread and aversion. The car was on the back of a flatbed truck, and it was nearly folded in half. I have been in accidents, I have had to give up cars due to their being beyond repair, but this was so jarring I kept looking away. I knew, just knew, that someone had just died in that car. I thought of their spouse or whoever answered the phone or the door . . . how they had plans for dinner or had tickets to see Dr. Strange that night. Maybe they had children in the car with them. I had to stop even considering that possibility, as I had passed my ability to see the entire picture without getting ill.
We are overwhelmed frequently. The tumultuous election, 20 months leading up to it, and now the hope or fear being announced on every radio and television station, every internet blog. We are a nation of beings overwhelmed by social media and speed. Those of us in big cities know the price paid for participation is high. If you hesitate, if you speed up too much to cut someone off, if you’re tweeting instead of driving, you can be folded into your car.
You can be folded into your own life.
As poets, as writers, we attempt to capture moments, we hope to stall a feeling or an image, that catch in the throat when someone tells us they don’t have time for us, that red sand spire in the desert that shouldn’t be able to sit atop a smaller rock without toppling. We are reporters of a different sort. If we have mastered our craft, we can offer an opinion within a question. Never, never should we become didactic by implying or outright saying, This is the way it is. We can speak for the collective, be a universal spokesperson only if we do so with particularity.
My apologies for the late tiger, and for any slow or lack of response on my part. The transition to part-time publishing has been painful. To those of you who know JoAn and I, and Mary Jo, you know we have high standards and have only wished to serve our poets. In the months and years ahead I hope to continue that tradition, printing our Infinities series and an occasional chapbook. But yes, the speed of life had affected my own vision, giving me a major hurtle to jump, and finally a renewed commitment to you, our poet.
We cannot tell what lies ahead, or what our lives will look like next week or next year, but we must offer our best work, our kindest words and our staunchest support to the small circle of people who populate our lives. And if we are very lucky, we may even influence others beyond our sphere with our words. In the middle of the chaos of our lives, the uncertainties, the losses, there is a certain joy in knowing other poets and readers are out there anxious for the news only we can deliver.
And that the world has need of each of us.
Each of us.